Share the Benefit

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Share the Benefit

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” 

The road to Jericho was steep and dangerous. So dangerous that people called it "the bloody way". Travelling the Jericho Road in those days was like walking through a dark alley in the worst part of a modern city. The man in Jesus' story found out just how dangerous it was - robbers stripped him, beat him and left him half dead.  

A priest and a Levite soon came along, and each passed by on the other side of the road. They didn't want to get involved in the man's needs. We shouldn't be too quick to scorn these men, or we may find we are convicting ourselves. How might you react if you were anxiously taking a shortcut through a dark alley and discover a man groaning on the ground? What if a quick assessment reveals he has been beaten by a group of thugs, and recently? Surely the wisest thing to do is hurry off and send in some 'official' to look after the poor victim? 
In passing by the man they both passed by the clear teaching of the Bible to have mercy on even strangers in need (Leviticus 19:34). The irony is that both men were the very members of God's people charged with helping the needy. In this case they appear to have put their schedule above their purpose.  

Another man appears - a Samaritan. Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies. All of the Samaritan’s training and experience should have led him to step on the poor victim not just step around him. He faced the same dangers and uncertainty as the other two. Nevertheless, against all comprehension, the Samaritan "took pity on him." His compassion was full-bodied, leading him to meet a variety of needs - friendship, emergency medical treatment, transport, financial subsidy for accommodation, and a follow-up visit.  

The parable of the Good Samaritan is provocative. Our Lord attacks the complacency of comfortable religious people who protect themselves from the needs of others. In the very last phrase we have nothing less than an order from our Lord in the clearest of terms, "Go and do likewise." Our paradigm is the Samaritan who risked his safety, destroyed his schedule, and became dirty and bloody through personal involvement with a needy person of another race and social class. Though the expert in the Law sought to limit the concept of 'neighbour,' Jesus expands it by showing that anyone in need is our neighbour. 

The expert in the Law didn't deny that the poor man needed caring for - who would? - He questions whether it's his responsibility. Are we not tempted to put limits on mercy too? You could imagine the expert as a typical Westerner: doesn't charity begin at home? I'm busy! Isn't it the government's job? I barely have enough money for myself. Aren't many of the poor simply irresponsible? I can't possibly make a difference. 
For decades, Bible believing Christians have avoided the radical nature of the teaching of this parable. At most, we have heard it telling us to collect tins of food and warm clothing for the needy each Christmas and winter, or to give money to relief agencies when there is a famine or earthquake in a distant country. It is time to listen more closely to this parable. We live on the Jericho Road. Suffering and need surrounds us. Unemployment, underemployment, new migrants, loneliness, broken homes, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health, the elderly, the dying, the sick, the disabled, the homeless. These are our neighbours. Do we want to reach them with the good news of the gospel of the Lord Jesus? Then we must give our faith active expression through deeds of compassion coupled with evangelism and discipleship. Ministry of mercy to our 'neighbour' is the responsibility of every Christian. It is as fundamental to Christian living as evangelism, giving and worship. 
What will make Christians and the church merciful? It is not enough to manipulate Christians to feel guilty because they are so 'rich'. We must remember the context of this parable or we will easily fall into moralism. Jesus isn't telling us that we can be saved by imitating the Good Samaritan, even though he is clearly charging us to follow his pattern. Instead, Jesus is seeking to humble us with the love God requires, so that we will be willing to receive the love God offers. Jesus' goal was to show the expert in the Law that he was desperately poor and in need.

Imagine the most unsightly, smelly, decrepit homeless person, mindlessly wandering the streets in filthy rags. He has no resources at all. He has nothing to recommend him. That is what we all are before God. Jesus was trying to show the self-assured, self-confident, self-justified law expert his own desperate need, and how God has mercifully met it. God has provided spiritual wealth by impoverishing his own Son. Jesus' spiritual riches and righteousness is given to those who trust him rather than themselves. The only true and enduring motivation to show mercy and meet need is an experience and a grasp of the mercy of God towards us in the gospel of the Lord Jesus. If we know that we are desperately needy sinners saved by the grace and mercy of God alone, we will be open and generous to the outcasts and the unlovely.  

This issue of mercy is something that we'll be looking at a little more closely during Mission Month this May. I'm delighted to be partnering with Anglicare's Share the Benefit program this year. It will challenge us biblically on the issue of mercy and justice - an area that evangelicals are traditionally weak in (people like me). We'll also have an opportunity to experience what it is to be on a low income and at the same time raise money to meet needs and show mercy. Our corporate goal is to raise $10 000. What we raise will be split between two ministries -Anglicare and Ropes Crossing Anglican Church (ministering in Mount Druitt area of Sydney). 

Share the Benefit is not to be our only response to the Good Samaritan, it is part of the journey towards us growing as a church of love and mercy because we are growing more in our experience and grasp of God's love and mercy towards us. Those who are loved much, love much.

Steve Jeffrey

Senior Minister